I have just returned from a meal of prawns. This was not a mere meal however. The prawns, fresh from the lagoon, had swum through a sauce, the origin of which can only reasonably be explained by a bargain with at least a mid level deity. After their journey through the sauce of the gods, they had leaped onto a skewer, and were brought to me after a brief encounter with a grill. The more robust among them were still gently waving their legs, and quietly imploring “eat me, eat me.” I could not disappoint, for fear of incurring the wrath of the sauce deity.
Of course, one dish does not make a meal. After careful perusal of the menu, I had settled upon the intriguingly named, and even more intriguingly described “Le Colonel”. It was described as lemon glace and vodka. Curious as to how this was carried, off, I decided to risk my well being in the name of research. Imagine my surprise when I was presented with a wineglass full of a clear liquid & a scoop of ice cream. Now, I cannot be sure that the liquid was in fact vodka, for it has never before passed my tastebuds. At least not in an an inordinately long time. Possibly as long as last Tuesday. But there it was, exactly as it said on the tin. And damned good it was too.
Followed by an expresso, all was well in the world.
I can hear you asking, where was this meal? Is the boy not currently residing in Arizona, where the chances of being shot are much greater than the chances of finding good seafood?
Well yes, the boy is currently residing in Arizona, but as always, is managing to escape from his supposed residence on a regular basis, in this case to French Polynesia. A curious combination of a bad day at work & the realisation that some of my Airpoints were expiring led to a quest for inner fulfilment. Or at least a quest for some diving, a good meal, and no seppos.
After exhaustive research of the Air NZ route map, I determined that there were many islands in the Pacific within reach & likely to fulfil the first and third requirements. And then there were a couple of French colonies, well placed to satisfy the second as well.
So, I checked the flights and asked my boss for a week off. To this he has the habit of agreeing, asking where I am going, and then swearing at me and threatening to say no. One day he probably will, but this may also be the day I quit.
Let me tell you though, the pace of the trip was hectic. Living in a land with insufficient holiday entitlements forced me to limit it to a week. I arrived in Papeete at 3am, and was greeted by people playing ukeles. Very nice, but suspicious, especially at such an absurd hour. A breif interlude in the airport ensued until the busses started running to the ferry terminal.
This of course provided the reassurance that I was in the islands. The ferry was running on islands time, but the bus at the other side was not. The next one was in two hours, and would result in me missing the entire days diving – not an optimal solution.
Luckily, I was in the islands. While looking for alternative transport, I was generously offered a ride by some locals in the airconditioned comfort of the back of their ute (for those reading this in less favoured lands, this is a pickup). Sweet mate.
So, within a few hours of landing, I had a dive, lunch & was installed at the campground.
The following week went something like this:
7:15am picked up for diving
8:30am feeding the sharks. Mostly small (1m) black tips, but always a few larger (2-3m) lemon sharks, with a mouthful of pearly whites & friendly enough to flash you a smile as they cruised past.
Noon: diving is finished, time for lunch and various combinations of exploring, relaxing & dinner.
The shark dives did result in a little contemplation, as is normal when your morning caffiene fix is replaced watching sharks feeding at close quarters. The logic of training sharks to come when people jumped out of a boat still strikes me as a little suspect. But they were all very friendly, and there is something of a pickup about rolling out of a boat & into waters which are well stocked (infested is such a negative phrase) with sharks in the morning.
The usual fare resulted from the diving – pretty good hard coral, a couple of rays, a couple of turtles, tuna asking to become sashimi. In addition there was a ver amourous remora (how far up your leg would you let a suckerfish swim? Especially when you are on film). It is also worth nothing that turtles at times have difficulties distinguishing between food & the fingers holding it.
The other divers provided almost as much entertainment. Top of the list was the seppo who felt it was very important to tell us all how expensive the camera that she left at home was. This was almost as important as ensuring that her lipstick was in top condition, even on the boat out. Watching her take great pains to explain to the dive guide that she did not like sharks or morays and only wanted to see pretty fish. Well, there were pretty fish as well.
Our last dive was a true finale, a nice ray, four turtles, and at all times an honour guard of 20-40 black tip sharks. The only way to avoid seeing the sharks was to close your eyes. Apparantely this was quite disturbing to our seppo friend when she looked up from her clownfish to see she was surrounded by them. I will reluctantly admit, that they were possibly less of an honour guard in farewell than simply watching to make sure I didn’t steal anything on the way out.
So the mornings were flat out diving, leaving the afternoon crammed with the arduous tasks of lunch, going for a walk, sitting on the beach with a beer, going swimming with a beer (that beach got hot!), and pearl shopping.
Early in the game, I was shopping for a new hat (having lost my favoured hat to my great distress, though I am sure the releif of others who had to be associated with me when I was wearing it), and was distracted by the shiny baubels. At this point I remembered the words of my mother, whenever she hears I am going somewhere associated with pearls to get her a string. So there I was & saw the perfect piece for a certain Arizona babe (no not Mum). But alas, on closer inspection, the pearls were decidedly on the less than perfect side.
So I had a purpose & the next afternoon I hired a scooter & went in search of the perfect shiny thing. After stopping for lunch of course – I would not want you to think that I undertook this in reckless abandonment of what is important in life. Many pearl shops later, there was no joy, and had endured a range of corny hard sell lines or just being ignored before coming to Ocean Pearl Gallery (it is my website & I shall plug who I want to), where Sabina suggested that she could make anything they did not have on display.
This begun the arduous task of choosing the pearls (empty a bag into a tray & start sorting through them like they were marbles), describing exactly the way they were to be mounted, trying a few alternatives… This is a most entertaining way to fill in a few hours. I have never commissioned jewellerly before & it is pretty cool.
Only 1200 years before you get your string Mum, but a pendant is a step in the right direction.
This took a couple of afternoons between my morning diving & my afternoon explore & lunch. They didn’t seem to mind me being slightly damp in their shop though, which was pretty good of them. They were also kind enough to suggest an alternate route for my walk home (after offering the obligatory transfer back to my hotel/campground). I think I messed up their customer demographics for the week.
Staying at the campground did have a few disadvantages though. Not least of which was a distressing lack of internet access and even available power points. The sunset over the beach wasn’t too bad though. But worst of all was the dawn chorus. There are a peculiarly large number of chickens in the area. And where there are chickens, there are roosters. Roosters which start to crow as soon as they are woken, in this case, at about 3am, probably by those bloody ukelee players. This was very unamusing.
I spent some considerable time (generally after about 3:15am) wondering about the efficacy of buying a shotgun and walking around encouraging every rooster I saw that noon would be a better time to start crowing, or at least just for the ukelee player to be a little quieter. But then I realised, that I was not in Arizona, and so could not simply buy a gun at the local Walmart.
So my thoughts reluctantly turned to other ways of reducing the noise. Would eating chicken at every meal reduce the numbers, or would they increase in response to the increased demand? This I thought was a risk not worth taking, so I contented myself with eating fish and cursing the chickens.
Of course a week was too short, but that was all I had before having to go back to work to pay for the next trip, somewhere, sometime.